Monday, June 26, 2017

The Second Flood of 1972

by Rachel Dworkin, archivist

June 22nd marked the 45th anniversary of the Flood of 1972. Caused by heavy rains courtest of Hurricane Agnes, the flood of June 22-23, 1972 was the worst disaster in the recorded history of Chemung County. It caused an estimated $291.2 million worth of propety damage and forced approximately 15,000 Elmirans from their homes. The waters had barely receded before the city was hit by a second flood, this one of people. 
Downtown Elmira at the height of the flood, June 23, 1972
Some of the visitors where here to help. Trucks from Utica came down with bottles of clean, pasteurized water courtesy of that city’s breweries. Over 1,000 Red Cross workers helped to coordinate supplies for the displaced and assist with the clean-up. Volunteers with Operation Rebuild made repairs to people’s homes. On June 30, Vice-President Spiro Agnew toured the Twin Tiers to survey the damage and promise federal assistance. Elmira could not have recovered as quickly as it did without the invaluable help all of them provided.

Vice-President Spiro Agnew's visit, June 30, 1972. He's from the government and he's here to help.
Other visitors were less benign. Looting was a huge problem. The flood had left many homes and businesses unguarded. Within four days of the flood, 13 people were arrested for looting, charged with stealing everything from electronics from stores to personal items from people’s homes and even the rug from Silver Dollar Cleaners. The National Guard was called in to protect the downtown from further theft. They formed a perimeter around the area, only letting in store owners who had a special pass to be there. With no authority to arrest people, or even a place to put them if they did, the Guard resorted to simply confiscating stolen merchandise and escorting looters outside the protected zone. 

National Guard on Water Street
Elmira Mayor Richard Loll talks with Guardsmen on Water Street.

Guardsmen on Lake Street Bridge. As one of Elmira's two surviving bridges, Lake Street was used for emergency and official vehicles only. All civilian traffic had to use the Madison Avenue Bridge.

Sight-seers and disaster tourists also posed a problem. Two of the city’s four bridges were down and, with portions of the downtown being blocked by the National Guard, traffic was a nightmare. The influx of outsiders coming to take pictures and gawk at the devastation only made it that much worse. They also caused problems driving through residential areas. The flood had left the roads coated in mud and, as it dried, every car which drove by kicked up clouds of dust. Some homeowners put up roadblocks on their streets to keep out the tourists so they could salvage their homes in peace.  

Sign at the corner of West Water Street and Demerest Parkway.
Sign at the corner of West Water Street and Sunnyside Drive.


  1. I remember the Flood of 72 I was only in 4th grade @ Hanlon Elementary in Odessa N.Y. our family lived in Odessa at that time, my Dad had just opened a used car dealership on Lake St. in Elmira when the flood occurred, we had permission from the authorities to move all of my Dad's used cars up to where we lived in Odessa to avoid being flooded and moved as much as we could of essential stuff too, news was hard to come by because of the flooding tv/radio was either down or hard to get but we survived and Thankfully the Government and others stepped in as your article pointed out, Thanks for sharing it.

  2. I was living in Maryland at the time and my father was in the hospital (can't remember if it was Arnot or St Joe's) but I talked to him every day. The hospital had phone service but my mother on Maple Avenue did not. She stayed on the Southside to take care of my grandparents. I appreciated the way my father's friends visited him so faithfully. My parent's home had city water but also a well. She was hosing off items from our church in her driveway and put up a sign saying she was using well water.

  3. I was 12 at the time and I remember the chaos of it all and the national guard on the street corners